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Sweet Freedom

You’re Holding The Key When You Believe It

Sweet Freedom / Michael McDonald and Safri Duo (2002)


The song Sweet Freedom by Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers is one of those songs that takes me instantly back to a particular time in my life. But besides taking me back to a past time, it is also one of the greatest – yet unrecognized songs – from the modern era of rock n roll. In effect, it has never received the airplay or the recognition that it deserved.

Perhaps this is – in part – because it was attached to moderately successful film called Running Scared. The 1986 action comedy starred Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal playing Chicago police officers who, after nearly being killed on the job, decide to retire and open a bar in Key West, Florida only to get caught up in making one last arrest before they go.

Running Scared was a moderate box office success, earning over $38 million. Reviews were mixed, however, and the film holds a current 59% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The site’s consensus states: “Running Scared struggles to strike a consistent balance between violent action and humor, but the chemistry between its well-matched leads keeps things entertaining.” Film critic Roger Ebert wrote that  the film “transcends its dreary roots and turns out to be a lot of fun.” But Vincent Canby of the New York Times advised people to “stay home and watch Miami Vice or Cagney and Lacey” instead.

Both the song and lyrics were written by Michael McDonald in 1986 and a good argument could be made that it was his greatest song. It came at the end of his career as it was his last Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The track peaked at #7 in the US, #12 in the UK, and #14 in Canada.

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The song Sweet Freedom has been done by a few other groups like the Tune Robbers. But it perhaps gets its most powerful version when Michael McDonald is teamed up- by satellite – with the Danish group Safri Duo. The electronic percussion duo is composed of Uffe Savery and Morten Friis. Initially, they were classically oriented but made a track mixing both tribal sound with modern electronica.  Released in 2000, “Played-A-Live (The Bongo Song)” became one of the most popular songs in Europein 2001. The single and subsequent album Episode II, each sold one million units worldwide, making Safri Duo the most internationally successful Danish act since Aqua. It was also featured prominently in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

A reissue of the album added a second remix-only CD and the single “Sweet Freedom” recorded with Michael McDonald via satellite link-up. It was released on 30 September 2002.

The electronica-trance drumming of Safri Duo mixed with the powerful voice of Michael McDonald is finally provides an adequate showcase for Sweet Freedom. Listening to McDonald and Safri Duo, the song becomes something far greater than a soundtrack for a somewhat stupid film of the mid-80s. The powerful electronic-trance drumming by Safri Duo adds the powerful drum beat the song has always needed.

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The lyrics and rhythm tell us the song is really about the notion of freedom. Not a freedom related to the characters of Crystal and Hines in the movie Running Scared. Rather a freedom related to life in 2023 America when the idea of freedom is under attack from all sides. In 1986, the song was attached to a dumb movie that boxed it in and never gave it the audience or meaning it was meant to have.

Fifteen years after its first recording for the film in 1986, the powerful song of Michal McDonald finally is attached to the right partner in the Danish group Safri Duo. More than another rock song, it now might be an appropriate anthem to the idea of freedom in our present world of 2023.


Sweet Freedom Lyrics

No more runnin’ down the wrong road
Dancin’ to a different drum
Can’t you see what’s goin’ on
Deep inside your heart
Always searchin’ for the real thing
Livin’ like it’s far away
Just leave all the madness in yesterday
You’re holdin’ the key
When you believe it

Shine sweet freedom
Shine your light on me
You are the magic
You’re right where I want to be
Oh sweet freedom carry me along
We’ll keep the spirit alive on and on

We’ll be dancin’ in the moonlight
Smilin’ with the risin’ sun
Livin’ like we’ve never done
Goin’ all the way
Reachin’ out to meet the changes
Touchin’ every shining star
The light of tomorrow is right where we are
There’s no turnin’ back
From what I’m feeling

Shine sweet freedom
Shine your light on me
You are the magic
You’re right where I want to be
Oh sweet freedom carry me along
We’ll keep the spirit alive on and on

‘Cause there’ll be starlight all night
When we’re close together
Share those feelings dancin’ in your eyes
Tonight they’re guiding us
Shinin’ till the mornin’ light

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